Granddad knows best
Granddad knows best
Tikhonov Jr gets a lift from a legend
When Russia takes on Finland, one of the most interested spectators in the crowd at Sochi's Bolshoy Ice Dome will be Viktor Tikhonov.
The legendary Soviet coach knows all about winning Olympic gold medals - and he's also something of a lucky omen for his grandson and namesake, the SKA St. Petersburg forward.
Tikhonov Jr made a scoring start to his Olympic campaign in Tuesday's gritty game against Norway, shrugging off a long wait for ice time to wrap up the goals in a 4-0 win.
Now he's looking forward to getting on the ice in front of his illustrious grandfather, and hoping to continue an impressive winning streak.
"He couldn't get here for the game, but he'll be there on Wednesday," Tikhonov said after the game against Norway. "I always love it when he's watching me play. This season he's flown up to St. Petersburg five or six times to see us and when he's seen me play home or away I think we're something like 8 and 1."
While Tikhonov's place on Zinetula Bilyaletdinov's roster is far from assured - he wasn't dressed for the first three games in this competition and saw no ice time in the first period as Russia struggled to get to grips with Norway - he's well primed on what to expect from Finland.
"The Finns come out hard and aggressive," he said. "They try to play the body a lot so we need a similar style. We can't afford to make any mistakes."
Tikhonov plays under a Finnish coach at SKA, where Jukka Jalonen is behind the bench. But he's not sure whether that's going to give him much insight into the way Finland is likely to approach the game.Continue reading
"I don't know if I have any secrets," he said. "We've all got enough experience, we know how they play and there's not too much that we don't know about each other.
"Every coach has different systems. If there were more Finns on our team [at SKA] maybe we'd have a small advantage but its hard to say. Anyway, I don't think it will come down to this."
One factor which is unescapable when Russia takes to the Bolshoy ice is the passionate support of the home fans. Some have suggested this could be a double-edged sword but Tikhonov is drawing inspiration from the packed houses that are getting behind the team despite some indifferent performances.
"Before this game I was pretty nervous," he admitted. "There's a lot of pressure, but when you come out and everyone is screaming it turns all that pressure into energy. Even if you're not playing a good game, everyone is still yelling for you. It's a big thing."
However, the Finns are also eager to sample the atmosphere - and hopefully silence the Russian crowd.
Coach Erkka Westerlund rates it as a potentially unique experience for his team. "The players are really excited about this," he said. "This is a chance for the players to get a situation that you seldom get to experience. Playing these kinds of games is the best thing with sport."
Meanwhile the injury-hit Finns are plotting a tight game for their rivals. Finnish hockey is typically well-drilled and backstopped by a top-class goalie, and after taking Canada to overtime with a gritty defensive display in the final group game the players are promising to stifle the Russians even more.
"We want to be tighter in the neutral zone than we were against Canada, especially in the first period," said defenceman Sami Lepisto, who plays his club hockey in Russia with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. We want to clog that up and not give their forwards room to skate. We want to take their forwards away."
Team-mate Sami Salo echoed those thoughts but also threw down the gauntlet to Finland's forwards. "We have to be better in the neutral zone," he said. "I think we gave a little too much space to Canada in our last game and obviously our offensive game wasn't very good. We were dumping the puck too much and we weren't entering the zone."
Meanwhile, even if the Russian media is concerned that Russia has struggled for goals and the illustrious like of Alexander Ovechkin and Yevgeni Malkin are struggling to find their best shooting skills, head coach Bilyaletdinov is characteristically unflustered.
Although his team enjoyed some fortunate bounces and profited from poor goaltending against Norway, coach Bill has no fears about finding the Finnish net.
"We'll score goals the same way we did today," he said after the game. "The fact that their goaltender made mistakes is probably because we made him make them. There were sufficient shots and screens in front of him to force mistakes."
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